It’s down to four teams for the Hockey East title. [scg_html_hea2013]The way the matchups line up, it’s a pairing of similar teams in each bracket. It’s also a championship that is as much up for grabs as any in recent memory, which is befitting of a league that went into the final weekend of the regular season with the four top teams all within two points of each other (and another two just three points [...]
These are the three things I think I learned this week.
1. Being a Top 10 team means nothing.
The upsets flew fast and furious over the weekend and none of Hockey East’s Top 10 teams were immune. Games that on paper appeared to be money in the bank instead became major withdrawals.
On Friday night, Massachusetts stunned second-ranked Boston College with a three-goal outburst to win 5-2. The Minutemen were coming off a weekend in which they’d gotten swept by Providence.
One night later, third-ranked New Hampshire fell at home to Providence, 6-5. The Friars had just lost on Thursday to Massachusetts-Lowell.
As for ninth-ranked Boston University, the Terriers won’t be in the Top 10 next week, not after losses at home to Northeastern on Friday and Lowell on Saturday. Lowell has now won nine in a row, but the Huskies are tooth-and-nail to even make the playoffs.
2. The race for home ice has gotten very tight.
Hockey East is looking a lot like yours truly emerging from an all-you-can-eat buffet. Increasingly thick in the middle.
Six teams now possess records over .500, making the fight for home ice increasingly close. Following BC and UNH in the standings are: BU and Providence with 18 points, Merrimack with 16 (plus a game in hand), and Lowell with 15 (plus a game in hand).
The margin between travelling and hosting in the numbers 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 quarterfinal slots could be paper-thin.
3. Lowell enjoyed the best week of all and now looks great in the PairWise but…
I’ve been touting the River Hawks for a while now, and their results are indisputable. Huge wins over Providence and BU have injected them into the home ice race. They’ve even vaulted into a tie for sixth in the PairWise, thanks to a terrific nonconference record.
However. That position in the PairWise is considerably more tenuous than it appears.
Going into Thursday night’s contest against Providence, the River Hawks held a dismal 1-6-0 record against Teams Under Consideration (TUC), but that category doesn’t factor into the PairWise until a team hits 10 games against TUC competition.
Their wins over Providence and BU, both teams under consideration, were huge, but Lowell still stands at 3-6-0 in that category. When it begins to count, as it will soon, The River Hawks will lose that category to every team in the PairWise Top 20 and drop in the ranking. (They only have a shot at catching Dartmouth, tied for ninth, in that category in the short run.)
On the plus side, Colorado College is one school just below the cutting line for becoming a TUC. (The cutting line is having an RPI over .500.) If CC can put a few wins together, that helps the River Hawks because they defeated CC, 3-1, early in October.
On the negative side, two of Lowell’s three wins against TUC have come against Massachusetts and Providence, two teams that are barely above the cutting line and thus, are most in danger of dropping below it. If they falter, Lowell’s record against TUC only gets worse.
So Lowell fans, don’t count on that NCAA tournament berth quite yet.
(Thanks to Jim Connelly for pointing out Lowell’s TUC issue.)
Congratulations to Boston College associate coach Mike Cavanaugh and legendary Boston Herald sportswriter John “Jocko” Connolly for the awards recently bestowed on them by the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Jim and I hold Mike and Jocko in the highest regard. Their knowledge and passion for the sport are matched only by what great guys they are. Their awards are richly deserved and we couldn’t feel any happier for them.
Though I had a pretty good week, Dave held right with me.
Jim last week: 8-1-1
Dave last week: 8-1-1
Jim’s record-to-date: 73-47-12
Dave’s record-to-date: 80-40-12
Here are this week’s picks:
Friday, Jan. 18
Massachusetts at Boston College
Jim’s pick: With the way these two teams are headed, I can’t pick against BC.
BC 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: I’ve got to agree. It’s hard to envision this game even being close.
BC 5, UMass 2
Northeastern at Boston University
Jim’s pick: This game is NESN’s Game of the Week, which for BU isn’t the best news given the last time the Terriers were on TV (6-5 OT loss to Harvard). But doesn’t know if lightning can strike twice.
BU 5, NU 2
Dave’s pick: While the Terriers have admittedly been inconsistent — how did they blow that lead to Harvard? – the Huskies have been consistent in a negative way.
BU 4, NU 1
Merrimack at Maine
Jim’s pick: I feel like Maine has to win at home eventually. Is this week game? Gut says yes, mind says no.
MC 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: I share Jim’s sentiment that Maine has to turn it around eventually, but it’s hard to forget their 6-0 shellacking at the hands of the Warriors last week.
MC 3, Maine 1
Saturday, Jan. 19
Massachusetts-Lowell at Boston University
Jim’s pick: Call this my upset of the week, but I think Lowell can win this game.
UML 4, BU 3
Dave’s pick: I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the River Hawks win their ninth straight game, but I’m sticking with home ice even though Agganis hasn’t been all that friendly to the Terriers.
BU 3, UML 2 (OT)
Merrimack at Maine
Jim’s pick: Like I said, Maine eventually has to win at home. I think this is the night.
Maine 3, MC 2
Dave’s pick: I’m sticking with Merrimack to pull off a tough road sweep.
MC 3, Maine 2
Boston College at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: While BC has struggled with the Huskies at times, I don’t think this is a trap game.
BC 4, NU 1
Dave’s pick: BC suffered a few stumbles during the holidays, but Johnny B. Gaudreau has returned and all is well.
BC 4, NU 1
Providence at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: Wildcats keep on rolling as PC faces a tough schedule.
UNH 3, PC 1
Dave’s pick: I see UNH and BC going neck-and-neck all the way to the final weekend. The Wildcats win here to stay on pace.
UNH 4, PC 2
Vermont vs. Penn State
Jim’s pick: Should be a pretty easy game for Cats.
UVM 4, PSU 1
Dave’s pick: Smooth sailing for the Catamounts.
UVM 4, PSU 1
Remember those Hockey East standings that a few weeks back made it seem like there was a one, maybe two/three horse race, for the Hockey East title. Yeah, that’s all changed. That leads my three things I learned this week:
1. The Hockey East accordion: let’s squeeze it together
The results this past weekend were exactly what the Hockey East standings needed to make things a whole lot closer. Boston College and New Hampshire split. Combined with a Boston University win in its only game, those three teams are within three point of one another. Add Providence’s sweep of Massachusetts, and the Friars are just two points in back of BU.
Then there is the bottom. Merrimack split, Massachusetts-Lowell swept and Vermont and Massachusetts both lost two a piece. So just four points now separates fifth-place Merrimack and eighth place UMass, with Lowell jumping from eighth to sixth. Northeastern is still knocking on the door in eighth, but Maine may need to press that panic button if they hope to make the playoffs.
2. Lowell back in NCAA tournament position
The River Hawks may be a game below .500 in Hockey East but this team is suddenly in position to make the NCAA tournament. Near-perfect results in non-league play are a major part of that reason. Lowell now sits 13th in the PairWise Rankings. Yes, still a bubble team but with each win, the River Hawks are getting close to punching back-to-back NCAA tournament tickets.
This is hardly unprecedented that a team that is struggling in league play could be in NCAA tournament contention. Remember the Vermont team a few years back that finished 8th in Hockey East and still made the big dance. That team, as well, had an impressive non-conference resume that propelled it.
3. When a penalty shot isn’t a penalty shot – a candidate for strangest call of the year
The ending to Saturday’s BC-UNH game can only be classified as whacky. For those who missed it, with BC trailing, 2-1, in the final two minutes of the game, BC’s Kevin Hayes had a wide-open look from the slot. Unfortunately for Hayes, his stick shattered as he attempted a shot. It bounced towards the net, though, and was just enough to confuse UNH goalie Casey DeSmith. DeSmith ended up missing the puck but, just before it went into the net, Wildcat forward Kevin Goumas made a goal-saving dive to pick it off the goal line with his hand.
One problem: a skater can’t cover the puck with your glove in the crease. Referee Jeff Bunyon immediately blew the whistle to signal penalty shot. And then the craziness began.
Bunyon’s partner Scott Hanson, who was stationed up at the blueline on the play, called Bunyon over and began a discussion. After a good 2-3 minutes, Hanson had talked Bunyon out of the call. No penalty shot, faceoff in the UNH zone.
What appears to be the question here was how Goumas touched the puck. If he put his hand on the top of the puck and pushed it aside, that would be considered covering the puck in the crease. However, if he simply pushed the puck from its side and knocked it out of the crease, that’s not a foul. I never saw a clear enough replay to know what actually happened.
That said, you’ll be hard pressed to find a crazier play in Hockey East this season.
By now, everyone knows that Boston College coach Jerry York set the record for all-time winningest coach with his 925th victory against Alabama-Huntsville on December 29.
But what if the Eagles had lost that night? (Yes, I know that BC is 13-3-2 and the Chargers are 3-17-1 so the premise seems far-fetched, but work with me here.)
That means that if the Eagles’ subsequent results (a loss and a tie) didn’t change, last night’s game against New Hampshire would have been the potential record-breaker.
York, however, was back at home, recuperating from eye surgery to correct a detached retina. Even so, the game counted toward his record. If a coach is on leave, then a team’s wins and losses don’t accrue to his totals; but if he’s merely missing a game due to illness (or eye surgery), the results belong to him.
As a result, Boston College’s 5-2 win over New Hampshire could have given York the prestigious record… while he rested at home.
Mindful of this, associate coach Mike Cavanaugh opened his post-game remarks to the media by saying, “This would be a really awkward press conference if we didn’t beat Alabama-Huntsville.”
File that one in the irony folder.
I categorically deny that two weeks ago I allowed Jim to pick up three games on me in a shamelessly sadistic move, knowing full well that I’d gain four this past week. I would never, ever do that to my good buddy.
Heh, heh, heh.
I will say, however, that I’m enjoying my seven game lead. Seven is, after all, my favorite number. It’s the number my son Ryan wore on his hockey jersey for almost his entire career. And my daughter Nicole is a 7-7-7 (July 7, 2007) bride.
Yeah, I’m loving the number seven right now.
Heh, heh, heh.
Dave last week: 8-3-1
Jim last week: 4-7-1
Dave’s record-to-date: 72-39-11
Jim’s record-to-date: 65-46-11
Here are this week’s picks:
Friday, Jan. 11
Maine at Northeastern
Dave’s pick: I’m not totally sold on the Black Bears just yet, but I have as many concerns about the Huskies.
Maine 2, NU 1
Jim’s pick: I’m with Dave here. Even at home, I’m concerned about Northeastern.
Maine 3, NU 1
Providence at Massachusetts
Dave’s pick: At a neutral site, I’d be picking the Friars, but they’ve struggled on the road.
UMass 3, PC 2
Jim’s pick: Even with road struggles, I think Providence is the better team and is will play with urgency after being swept last weekend.
PC 4, UMass 2
New Hampshire at Boston College
Dave’s pick: With the news that BC coach Jerry York will miss both games this weekend following surgery for a detached retina, I almost switched my pick of an overtime BC win into the UNH column. (I even typed it in.) But I’m going to stick with the Eagles to remain undefeated at home. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see a Wildcat sweep.
BC 3, UNH 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: I have to agree here as well. I’m pretty bullish on UNH, but I think the Eagles at home are a pretty incredible team.
BC 4, UNH 3
Massachusetts-Lowell at Vermont
Dave’s pick: Hop on the River Hawks bandwagon while there’s still room.
UML 4, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: I’m on the bandwagon, Dave. Just hope it doesn’t hit a bump because it’s a long ride back from Vermont.
UML 3, UVM 2
Boston University at Merrimack
Dave’s pick: I hated to see the Terriers fall to Harvard on Wednesday, but I’m sticking with them in this contest.
BU 4, MC 3 (OT)
Jim’s pick: Did Wednesday damage BU’s confidence at all? Whether it did or not, I’m sticking with BU.
BU 4, MC 2
Saturday, Jan. 12
Boston College at New Hampshire
Dave’s pick: A month ago, this looked like a game that could go into overtime. Not now.
UNH 4, BC 2
Jim’s pick: Agreed. UNH just might sweep this series and I’m definitely going with the Wildcats at home.
UNH 5, BC 3
Maine at Merrimack
Dave’s pick: Maine may have improved of late, but not enough to knock off the Warriors at home.
MC 4, Maine 2
Jim’s pick: This is my coin-flip game of the weekend.
MC 3, Maine 2 (OT)
Massachusetts at Providence
Dave’s pick: The Friars salvage a split back at home to maintain their tenuous hold on fourth place.
PC 4, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: I think Providence finishes the sweep here and starts to get a stranglehold on fourth place.
PC 4, UMass 2
Massachusetts-Lowell at Vermont
Dave’s pick: Seven straight for the River Hawks. They’re going to be rocketing up in the standings.
UML 3, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: I want to call this a split because Vermont is a better team than many of us think. But I also see the River Hawks on a roll here.
UML 2, UVM 1
Thursday, Jan. 17
Providence at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dave’s pick: With their third win in seven days, the River Hawks will almost double their previous point total within Hockey East.
UML 4, PC 3
Jim’s pick: I’m actually going to pick against Lowell here remembering that it was Providence that stiffled the River Hawks in last year’s playoffs.
PC 3, UML 1
These are the three things I think I learned this past week.
1. The league is getting squeezed
The top and the bottom of Hockey East are getting closer to each other.
Boston College at the top (1A to New Hampshire’s 1B) continued its modest slumber last weekend, settling for a 3-3 tie with Yale. The Eagles have now followed their 10-game winning streak with a home-and-home split with Boston University (no shame there) but then a 1-1-2 record with the only win coming over hapless Alabama-Huntsville.
The tie with Yale was certainly an improvement over the 8-1 embarrassment at the hands of Minnesota, and Johnny Gaudreau’s triumphant return from the World Junior tournament may cure many ills, but it’s still been surprising to see BC’s struggles.
At the other end of the standings, Maine’s split (albeit with Mercyhurst) gives the Black Bears three wins in their last four games. That continues at least some of the momentum they gained coming out of the holiday break winning the Florida College Classic.
2. The nonconference struggles continue.
Yes, Massachusetts-Lowell swept Clarkson and together Boston University and New Hampshire swept Renssalaer. But Atlantic Hockey took two more wins against Hockey East on Saturday (Bentley defeating Northeastern and Mercyhurst salvaging a split with Maine).
The lopsided scores, 6-3 and 5-2 respectively, aren’t a major concern since a total of three empty-net goals were involved. The opponents, however, came into the contests a collective two games under .500.
This isn’t merely a matter of bragging rights. It factors into the NCAA tournament selection criteria.
(I’m giving Providence a pass for getting swept at Minnesota State since the Friars were without super freshman goaltender Jon Gillies, who was at the World Junior tournament. But that factors into the PairWise, too.)
3. Lowell keeps Big Mo on its side
The River Hawks may have gotten off to a tough start this season, but they are officially on a roll now. Any sweep in the North Country is an accomplishment and with five straight wins, they’re now a game over .500.
The problem is that only one of those five wins came against a Hockey East opponent. The challenge will be to translate Big Mo into wins inside the league where the Hawks still languish in a tie for eighth place (albeit with games in hand).
The next few weeks will be huge.
Neither Dave nor I did very well last week with so many unexpected outcomes in holiday tournaments. Fortunately, Dave was three games worse than I was, helping me cut his lead in picks in half.
Jim last week: 8-6-1
Dave last week: 5-9-1
Jim’s record-to-date: 61-39-10
Dave’s record-to-date: 64-36-10
Friday, Jan. 4
Yale at Boston College
Jim’s pick: As much as Boston College has struggled of late, I still like the Eagles at home.
BC 5, Yale 4
Dave’s pick: I have to agree. I’m still on the BC bandwagon.
BC 3, Yale 2
Rensselaer at Boston University
Jim’s pick: BU, similar to BC, needs a nice bounce-back game and will get it vs. RPI.
BU 4, RPI 2
Dave’s pick: Once again, I have to agree. Time for a BU rebound.
BU 3, RPI 1
Mass.-Lowell at Clarkson
Jim’s pick: I can’t positively say that Lowell is back to winning ways. But as a betting man, I’m going to say the River Hawks are indeed.
UML 3, Clarkson 1
Dave’s pick: Back in December, I thought Lowell was headed for a nice winning streak, and the River Hawks are living up to it.
UML 4, Clarkson 1
Mercyhurst vs. Maine (at Cumberland Country Civic Center, Portland, Me.)
Jim’s pick: Similar to Lowell, I can’t tell if Maine is for real after its holiday tournament win. I feel like this series will be a split, so I’ll pick the ‘Hurst in the opener because the game isn’t at Alfond.
Mercyhurst 4, Maine 3
Dave’s pick: Is Maine out of the woods yet? I’m not sure, but I like the recent signs.
Maine 2, Mercyhurst 1
Providence at Minnesota State
Jim’s pick: The only idle Hockey East team last week, I think the rest probably did the Friars well.
PC 5, MSU-Mank 2
Dave’s pick: MSU has lost only twice at home all year and that was to No. 11 Denver. I see a tough trip for the Friars.
MSU-Mank 3, PC 2
Saturday, Jan. 5
Merrimack at Vermont
Jim’s pick: Two weekends in a row, Merrimack has to make the long trek to Burlington. That should take a toll on the Warriors.
UVM 4, MC 3
Dave’s pick: I think the Warriors will squeak this one out.
MC 4, UVM 3 (OT)
Mass.-Lowell at Clarkson
Jim’s pick: A sweep in the North Country is never easy but I think Lowell has it in them.
UML 4, Clarkson 3
Dave’s pick: Agreed. The River Hawks are on a roll.
UML 3, Clarkson 2
Mercyhurst at Maine
Jim’s pick: Hate calling splits but think this is Maine’s at home
Maine 4, Mercyhurst 1
Dave’s pick: I also see a win for Maine here, but it’s to give the Black Bears a sweep.
Maine 3, Mercyhurst 1
Bentley at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: The Falcons gave Lowell all it could handle last weekend, but I still think I’m picking Hockey East here.
NU 5, Bentley 3
Dave’s pick: Agreed. The Huskies may have had their struggles, but I don’t think Bentley is good enough to keep them down.
NU 4, Bentley 2
Providence at Minnesota-State
Jim’s pick: Friars complete the sweep on the road.
PC 2, MSU-Mank 1
Dave’s pick: I predict a sweep as well, but not the right kind for Hockey East fans.
MSU-Mank 3, PC 2
Rensselaer at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: Last weekend was a strange one for the Wildcats. I firmly believe they will be ready to play at home.
UNH 4, RPI 1
Dave’s pick: Absolutely. The Wildcats had a terrific first half; one game doesn’t change that.
UNH 4, RPI 2
Wednesday, Jan. 9
Harvard at Boston University
Jim’s pick: Unless Harvard drastically changes from the team that played Lowell and Northeastern, this game should be a runaway.
BU 5, HU 1
Dave’s pick: I’m not sure it’ll be a runaway, but I do expect BU to prevail.
BU 4, HU 2
Two slumping Hockey East teams earned tournament titles (and a third will play for a title tonight), which leads me to ask: can winning your holiday tournament serve as a springboard to the second half?
1. Maine, Vermont win titles, hope to earn confidence
Holiday tournaments are strange creatures. Your team generally is coming off a long hiatus (as is everyone else in the tournament). Sometimes, as in the case of Vermont, you don’t play a typical semifinal-final scenario, instead playing pre-determined opponents. And the motivation to win some no-name brand trophy often isn’t enough to motivate a team. But for two Hockey East teams – Maine and Vermont – holiday tournament wins might be just what the doctor ordered.
Maine co-hosted its annual holiday tournament in Florida and knocked off Minnesota-Duluth and Cornell, the latter with an impressive come-from-behind victory. Vermont won its tournament with victories over nationally-ranked Union and then a come-from-behind victory of its own, scoring the final five goals in a 6-3 victory over Princeton to capture the Catamount Cup. Both of these teams desperately needed positive steps, and it will be interesting to see if these victories can be springboards.
A third team, Massachusetts, will have the same chance to win a holiday tournament on Monday evening when the Minutemen face Dartmouth in the final of the Ledyard Bank Classic in Hanover, N.H.
2. York’s milestone followed by humbling loss
No one in the college hockey world could ignore the fantastic win number 925 that Boston College head coach Jerry York enjoyed on Saturday night at the Mariucci Classic. But all of the good feelings were short lived as the Eagles were humbled by a blow away loss at the hands of Minnesota on Sunday. Most know that BC is a good enough team to return to the NCAA Frozen Four, but Sunday’s loss proved this team more than mortal. The Eagles, in fact, are 2-2-1 in their last five, a very pedestrian record for a team coming off a 10-game winning streak.
3. And let’s not forget Lowell
As easy as it would be to forget the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks after a disappointing first half, Lowell instead has caught our attention with a season-best three game winning streak. Lowell outscored its opponents – Northeastern, Harvard and Bentley – 12-2 in that span and have returned to .500. Remember, heading into the break last year, the River Hawks were an average 9-6-0 but poured things on in the second half and came without a puck bounce of the Frozen Four. What will happen in the second half is yet to be seen, but three straight victories heading into 2013 is certainly a positive sign.
Well, it’s just about the New Year, which personally I hope translates to much improved success in picking these games. To this point, I’m six games behind my elderly elder.
Seeing as there is no column this week, we decided to take a bit of an expanded look at each of the upcoming weekend’s holiday tournaments and non-league games. At the end of each will be the picks.
Jim last week (Dec. 7-20): 4-4-3
Dave last week: 5-3-3
Jim’s record-to-date: 53-33-9
Dave’s record-to-date: 59-27-9
Holiday Tournament Previews and Picks
Friday, Dec. 28 and Saturday, Dec. 29
Maine at Florida College Classic (vs. Minnesota-Duluth, Fri.; vs. Cornell/Ferris St., Sat.)
The annual Florida College Classic always brings Maine and Cornell to Naples along with two other clubs. This year’s field may be one of the tournament’s best ever as it includes last year’s national runner up, Ferris State, and the 2011 national champion Minnesota-Duluth. Unfortunately for the Black Bears, a team in need of wins, a powerhouse field isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered. The Black Bears open against Duluth, a team that has struggled at times this year. But it still seems difficult to pick the Black Bears to finish anywhere but fourth place.
Jim’s pick: If there is going to be an upset here, I’d expect it in the semifinals vs. UMD. But my pick record needs wins, not upset picks.
Semis: UMD 3, Maine 2; Final/Consol.: Cornell 4, Maine 2; Ferris State 4, Maine 1
Dave’s pick: Agreed. I believe the Black Bears should start picking up the pace at some point — they can’t possibly be this bad all season, can they? — but I’ll start picking them when they start producing.
Semis: UMD 3, Maine 1; Final/Consol.: Cornell 3, Maine 1; Ferris State 4, Maine 1
Saturday, Dec. 29 and Sunday, Dec. 30 – Holiday tournaments
Boston College at Mariucci Classic (Sat. vs. Alabama-Huntsville, Sun. vs. Minnesota)
One of the oldest holiday tournaments, the Mariucci Classic has produced plenty of history. But this year’s tournament could be historic for participant Boston College. One win, as most people know by now, will give the Eagles head coach Jerry York the all-time record for wins in Division I. Many remember that more than three weeks ago, the Eagles were unable to hold a late lead against Providence, denying York the record prior to the break. Now, it seems likely that the Eagles will earn the magical win far from home and possibly in front of a sparse crowd when the Eagles face Alabama-Huntsville in Saturday’s early game.
As for the tournament, the predetermined field means the Eagles are certain to face host Minnesota on the second night. The fourth team, Air Force, will not have to face the Eagles. If the pundits are correct, BC and Minnesota would win on Saturday setting up a game for the title in Saturday’s late game. But all too often, those plans seem to not work.
Jim’s pick: BC will certainly get past UAH, but Minnesota will be a tough road test, especially without Johnny Gaudreau (World Juniors).
Sat: BC 5, UAH 1; Sun: Minn. 4, BC 3
Dave’s pick: I’d be tempted to pick the Eagles to defeat Alabama-Huntsville, 52-0, using hyperbole to make clear that there is zero chance of York not getting the historic win. But I won’t kick a once-proud program when it’s down. As for the Gophers, they will be on their home ice and BC will be without Gaudreau. But I’m still sticking with the Eagles.
Sat: BC 5, UAH 0 ; Sun: BC 3, Minn. 2 (OT)
Merrimack and Vermont at Catamount Cup (Sat: Merrimack vs. Princeton; Union at Vermont; Sun. Championship/Consolation)
Another long-standing holiday tournament is Vermont’s Catamount Cup. This year, the Cats have invited fellow Hockey East team, Merrimack, along with two ECAC members, Princeton and Union. Looking at the field, Union stands out at probably the best team on paper, but the Dutchmen struggled prior to the break, winless (0-1-3) in their last four. Princeton doesn’t enter with much of a better record having gone 0-3-2 in its last five. Merrimack is 2-0-1 in its last three, but that came after a five-game (0-4-1) winless streak. So it may be host Vermont, 2-2-1 in its last five, that is playing the best hockey. The Catamounts also have the shortest layoff, having played to a spirited 4-4 road tie at Providence on Dec. 20.
Jim’s pick: There is a part of me that really thinks this may be a Hockey East final. Though I will pick all the possible scenarios.
Semis: UVM 3, Union 2; MC 4, PU 2; Finals/Consol: UVM 4, PU 2; MC 4, UVM 3; MC 3, Union 2
Dave’s pick: I wish I could share Jim’s optimism regarding the Hockey East teams, but this looks like Union’s tournament to lose.
Semis: Union 3, UVM 2; MC 4, PU 1 ; Finals/Consol: UVM 3 PU 2; MC 4, UVM3; Union 4, MC 3
Massachusetts and New Hampshire at Ledyard Bank Classic (Sun: Bemidji St. vs. UMass; UNH at Dartmouth; Mon: Championship/Consolation)
Once known as the Auld Lang Syne tournament, with a final always played on New Year’s Eve, the Ledyard Bank Classic at Dartmouth is another tournament featuring two Hockey East teams: New Hampshire and UMass. The Wildcats enter as the prohibitive favorite having won seven of their last nine (7-1-1). Dartmouth, UNH’s in-state, non-league rival, also had a solid first half and holds a 7-2-2 record at the break. UMass and Bemidji State both struggled at times but both showed signs of brilliance, UMass with wins over both UNH and Providence and Bemidji closing the first half with a win and tie over Denver.
Jim’s pick: I think this will be a very competitive tournament, but I see the Wildcats winning in an all Hockey East final (but will pick all possible HEA options).
Semis: UNH 4, DC 2; UMass 3, BSU 2; Finals/Consol: UNH 4, BSU 1; UNH 3, UMass 1; DC 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: Again, Jim is more optimistic than I am. I see UNH winning it all but UMass having a tougher time. The Minutemen impressed early against the strongest part of their schedule but have only one win in their last six.
Semis: UNH 3, DC 2; BSU 3, UMass 2; Finals/Consol: UNH 4, BSU 2; UNH 4, UMass 1; DC 4, UMass 1
Saturday, December 29
Boston University at Denver
The Terriers and Pioneers are teams that entered the break heading in opposite directions. BU won four it its last five, including a victory over No. 1 Boston College. Denver, after a red-hot start to the season, finished the first half winless in its last eight (0-5-3). The things that could make what seems like a lop-sided matchup closer are home ice for the Pioneers and BU being without top freshman defenseman Matt Grzelyck, who will be with Team USA at World Juniors.
Jim’s pick: Even without Grzelyck and on the road, I like BU here.
BU 4, DU 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed 100 percent, even on the score.
BU 4, DU 2
Northeastern at Harvard
Talk about a matchup of two struggling teams. Since beating Merrimack and Boston College to begin the season, the only other teams Northeastern has beaten are UMass and Alabama-Huntsville (which has just one win against Division I competition). The Huskies are struggling to score goals and need to find a way to break through in the second half. Harvard, a team that many had big expectations for entering the year, lost four players to the now nationally-known cheating scandal. The Crimson finished the first half with a 5-0 loss to Massachusetts-Lowell.
Jim’s pick: It almost seems like I should pick a 0-0 tie here. But I’ll go with the Huskies.
NU 2, HU 1
Dave’s pick: I’m not bullish on the Crimson, but can’t pick the Huskies until they show me more.
HU 2, NU 1
Sunday, December 30
Bentley at Massachusetts-Lowell
UMass-Lowell began to right the ship before break after a somewhat disappointing first half of the season. Shutout wins over Northeastern and Harvard closed the first half with the River Hawks one game under .500. Bentley, from Atlantic Hockey, finished the first half two games under .500 (6-8-1) and has struggled in non-league play. One upside for Bentley is that it possesses the nation’s leading scorer in Brent Gensler, who finished the first half with 10 goals and 26 points.
Jim’s pick: Gensler or not, Bentley doesn’t have the tools to matchup with Lowell.
UML 4, Bentley 1
Dave’s pick: Agreed. Lowell in a cakewalk.
UML 5, Bentley 1